Coach's Corner

Finally, the 2003 Husky football season has come to an end. Or has it? What will come out of these past three months of struggle? What direction will the team take without its three stars? What direction will the Athletic Department take when all the Rick Neuheisel and Dr. Feelgood stuff finally fades away?

Will the team embrace Coach Gilbertson and the changes he's trying to implement? Will the Huskies climb back into the elite of America's football powers? There are a lot of questions, and Keith Gilbertson will finally be the one in charge of providing the answers.

It is now his ship to steer and he is firmly in charge. Now he needs to steer it away from the rocks and not run it further aground.

The season was a lot like a roller coaster ride. The ups were obviously the three games against the other northwest schools. The mythological Northwest Championship did not begin with Rick Neuheisel. He did a nice job of motivating his kids to win it, though. It had long been an understood source of pride for all modern day Husky players. But the last two seasons were but only two of twelve such northwest sweeps over the past 25 years. Eight other times the Dawgs won at least 2 out of 3. This was an understood part of Husky football, and I'm glad that it still is. You don't lose to these schools!

Of course, you don't lose to the Bay area and Arizona schools either.

It's usually when you can beat both LA schools in the same year that you can assume that you are probably a pretty good team. That is the measuring stick. But when you are Washington, you are supposed to beat the northwest schools.

Of all the things to come out of this past season, the dominance of the three northwest schools and the non-losing streak are the foundations upon which to rebuild and retool the 2004 Huskies. They obviously played their three best games against Oregon State, Oregon and WSU. They won 5 of 7 at home and that is just as important, because by the last game they had finally brought the crowd back. Husky stadium is one the hardest places to play for any opponent. It is especially difficult when the crowd supports the team like they did against the Cougars. It took the entire season, which included terrible loses to Nevada and USC in Seattle, but against WSU the crowd was back. They embraced this Husky team and particularly the blitzing, attacking defense. They responded to a tremendous team effort and electrified Husky Stadium. It was like the days of old. It was what Husky football is supposed to be.

Cody Pickett leaves with the greatest statistics ever by a Husky quarterback. Certainly, if he had not overthrown Reggie against Arizona, then the Huskies would still be playing. But, he didn't, and that's that. He did complete a lot of other ones though and came thru when it counted most in that heroic drive to end the Cougar game.

Pickett was a great athlete and was recruited by one coach, and then played for two others before his career was over. He will definitely play at the next level and will gladly stand on the sideline with a clipboard and baseball hat until which time he is ready to play. He got to start for 3 years and has a Rose Bowl ring for another in which he got to play. His teams went 8-4, 7-6, and 6-6. It's not a great mark but it's what it is. Sonny Sixkiller went 6-4, 8-3, and 8-3; Cary Conklin, the coach who recruited Cody to Washington, went 6-5 and 8-4; Chris Chandler went 7-5, 8-3-1, and 7-4-1; Damon Huard went 7-4, 7-4, and 7-4-1, and Brock Huard finished his career with an identical 6-6 record to Cody's.

In my book, Cody Pickett matches up favorably with those other Husky quarterbacks, but never had the running attack that all the others enjoyed. He had to carry this team the past two years as well as weather tremendous off the field problems. He was a warrior and he was tough. He leaves behind a legacy just as his predecessor, Marques Tuiasosopo did.

There are three youngsters biting at the bit to replace him. They will probably all benefit from a renewed Husky rushing attack that Pickett never had. Let's hope so.

Terry Johnson played hard in spots and improved over the course of three years. He was the best of what the Huskies had up front defensively but never really measured up to the past Husky greats who have played on the defensive line. He held himself back by not ever making the full commitment to become a great player, but he proved himself this season. He too, will get a chance to play at the next level and should continue to improve as long as he continues to improve his attitude. Tank still has a world of untapped talent and will probably realize it after he leaves.

Reggie Williams is simply the very best wide receiver to ever play at Washington. He cannot be replaced and will only continue to improve as he matures and gets some more coaching on his technique. We shall never see another and next to Cory Dillon, is the best player at his position over the past decade of Husky football. He is a legend and one of the greatest Huskies ever. He is also a great kid and a warm person. He is easily the most exciting thing to happen at Montlake since the Huskies went to the Rose Bowl.

What direction the Athletic Department will take depends a lot on the study currently being conducted by University Vice President, Norm Arkins. They are now examining the entire operation. One would assume that we are near the close of the Barbara Hedges era and most expect that this contract will probably be her last. The events of the past few years have really been hard on her but she leaves a legacy of change and development. She has certainly changed the physical environment of Husky Athletics and the one of her last project to rebuilt and remodeled the Crewhouse will be her crowning jewel.

The Husky Student Academic Services and Training Table should give the Husky athletes a top notch facility that will also house the famous and traditional Husky Crews. It will also help in recruiting and probably deserves her name on it somewhere.

She has taken the department from 96 employees to over 240. She raised incredible sums to build her facilities legacy. She put Washington in contention of the Sears Cup when nobody had even heard of it. She did the obvious by adding the sports of softball and soccer for women. Title Nine dictated it, but both programs immediately became competitive at the national level. They will also be part of her legacy.

That leaves the Neuheisel and "Dr. Feelgood" problems. Both will eventually be settled but not without considerable embarrassment to both the department and the university. Gambling and Drugs are the two biggest monsters on the scale of no-no's. They are viewed as bad and worse when it comes to the NCAA and the conference much less the media and the public. Both of the problems probably could have been avoided and both have since spun out of control. They are problems born out of mismanagement and are sources of extreme emotional distress for not only the Board of Regents but also the university as a whole.

The Neuheisel situation is all about money. Period! If you didn't want him around then why not just fire him, severe ties, and then pay him? That seems pretty simple. He would have been gone a long time ago if there hadn't been the "just cause" attached to his firing. Gambling in a basketball pool was not just cause. You know it and I know it. Heck, the NCAA itself is reluctant to even consider it a major offense. They are afraid to open that can of worms and expose that hundreds of basketball pools were being gambled in throughout colleges in America.

If they didn't want him around, a simple buyout would've eliminated the problem. It was mismanaged from the get go, and there is no way his contract should not have been honored. Now the long awaited legal battle will only increase in expense as the legal fees climb. Another embarrassment.

Dr. Bill Scheyer is an elderly gentleman who was operating his practice as if it was 1955. His little black bag had his instruments and his drugs, just like doctors used to make house calls in the 50's. Bill is a sweet old man who obviously did some stupid and illegal things in his quest to be important. He regularly comforted just about anyone he came in contact with. And sure, people will always take advantage of someone like him, but his intentions were good and this will certainly make him more famous than he ever would have imagined. He has already been embarrassed and will die with this scandal being his greatest feat. That truly is sad. He was so nice to so many, but his actions will condemn him and cause others to be judgmental of him without ever really knowing him. He should have been replaced when the original warning signs presented themselves. His reputation and that of the university will now forever be tainted.

It will be even sadder to see the final toll of who else falls. Thankfully, Husky football is only a partial player in this drama. Not so for Husky softball.

On a final note, of course I believe that Coach Gilbertson will succeed in turning around Husky football, and it should be sooner than later. Kids respect toughness and expect discipline. They know they totally blew the Nevada, Arizona, and Cal games. They know they didn't show up to play. They know that everyone, coaches and players alike, take the blame for not having won at least eight games.

The WSU victory should lay the foundation for the future. Washington underachieved through most of the season, but they will learn from that. And they will have learned it without having a losing season, something that USC, WSU, UCLA, and all the other teams in this conference cannot say.

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